EMM team offers Christ-centered response to terrorism

Team says Christians, Muslims can make peace together

Sep 8, 2014 by and

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SALUNGA, Pa. — “Are Muslims trying to take over America?”

David Shenk, second from right, along with Pastor Jeremiah Choi, fourth from right, and Pastor Crystal Nana Lee, fifth from left, discuss relationships between Muslims and Christians at Agape Mennonite Church in Hong Kong in September 2013. — EMM

David Shenk, second from right, along with Pastor Jeremiah Choi, fourth from right, and Pastor Crystal Nana Lee, fifth from left, discuss relationships between Muslims and Christians at Agape Mennonite Church in Hong Kong in September 2013. — EMM

“Who are the true Muslims, the peaceful ones or the violent ones?”

“How should Christians respond to jihadi Muslims?”

“Isn’t force the only effective way to respond to Islamist terrorism?”

The Christian/Muslim Relations Team of Eastern Mennonite Missions hears such questions on a regular basis. These inquiries motivated the team members — Jonathan Bornman, Sheryl Martin, Andres Prins and David and Grace Shenk — to craft a statement, “Confessing the Peace of Jesus in a Terroristic World.”

“Our desire is for Christians to take seriously the command of Jesus to be peacemakers and our calling to be Christ’s ambassadors and ministers of reconciliation,” Bornman said. “We have been entrusted with a message of freedom, reconciliation and salvation. Muslims won’t hear our witness unless faithful disciples of Jesus build friendships in which this message can be shared.

“When I talk to Muslims about the violence of Boko Haram or ISIS, they usually respond with, ‘That’s not true Islam’ or ‘More guns and airplanes are needed to destroy such aggressors.’ These responses remind me of the uniqueness of the Church’s message of forgiveness, reconciliation, healing and restoration.”

David Shenk said there is much concern worldwide about terrorism.

“There’s concern about terrorism emanating from Muslim societies,” he said. “There is also much concern about Western powers; the world lives within the shadow of the U.S. occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan. I am dismayed by how high the walls dividing Muslims and Christians have become in many regions of the world. What should the response of New Testament Christians be?”

Grace Shenk said as they meet with congregations they sense people are perplexed and want to better understand Islam and how to relate to Muslims in peacebuilding ways.

“We need to be awake and aware in these difficult times,” she said. “We need to ask God, ‘What is my responsibility in times like these? What do you want me to do? What should we as a community of faith do? How can we be involved?’ ”

The team’s 900-word statement addresses two differing Muslim “voices” and offers seven practical, transformative actions for Christians who desire to be messengers of God’s healing and peace through Jesus.

“I am grieved that many Christians have written off Muslims as unapproachable, as sworn enemies or as not-open-to-nor-in-need-of God’s redemptive love in the Messiah,” Prins said. “I have heard of many Christians who have had Muslim neighbors for years and never sought to get to know them, extended hospitality, shared about spiritual matters or offered to pray in Jesus’ name for God’s blessing in their lives — something most Muslims deeply appreciate.”

Martin said many of her Muslim friends “have expressed surprise when they get acquainted with us and discover that my family and I honor and worship God and keep moral family standards.”

“Even though we may look different, speak different languages, and dress differently, inside we all have the same needs and desires,” she said.

She is always pleased to receive phone calls about how to reach out, she said.

“One Christian woman who was reaching out to her Iraqi neighbors asked for conversation ideas given their limited common vocabulary,” she said. “I encouraged her to share their family photo album.”

A few months ago Martin shared with Muslim friends how the wife of Jerry Umanos, a U.S. pediatrician killed by a gunman in Afghanistan in April, said she was able to forgive her husband’s killer. The older Muslim woman was shocked and said, “He should never be forgiven.”

Martin explains, “Although forgiveness is commended in the Quran, retribution is a prominent theme. Forgiving instead of seeking revenge is an amazing grace offered through Christ.”

“All the Muslims I have shared with about our ‘peacemakers confessing Christ’ work have expressed approval and appreciation,” Prins said.

“I recently had a surprising airport conversation with a Saudi Arabian Shia Muslim who showed keen interest in reading, for the first time in his life, some of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels. At one point he asked me how we managed to do peacemaking without slipping into proselytism. I answered that everyone is trying in one way or another to convince everyone else of what they believe. The important thing is that we do it respectfully and honestly. He agreed.”

“There is hope,” David Shenk said. “With the escalation in global violence, a lot of people yearn for peace. There is an interest in Jesus and his peace among people around the world, including Muslims.”

Read the team’s statement at emm.org/peacemakers.


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